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Conant baseball can’t come through in clutch

  • Conant’s James Record pops out against Belmont’s Cole Contigiani with the bases loaded in the sixth inning of the DIII semifinals on Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Conant’s Corbin Sasner stands on second waiting to be driven in, but the big hit never came. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The Conant baseball team lost to Belmont in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant baseball team lost to Belmont in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant baseball team lost to Belmont in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant baseball team lost to Belmont in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant baseball team lost to Belmont in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant baseball team lost to Belmont in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant baseball team lost to Belmont in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant baseball team lost to Belmont in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant baseball team lost to Belmont in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant baseball team lost to Belmont in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at SNHU on Thursday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Conant was on the grind against Cole Contigiani in the Division III semifinals, working the pitch count in hopes of tiring the Player of the Year so the Orioles could put up some runs. And though they’d push the long-haired hurler over 120 pitches and bring Conant’s best player to the plate with the bases loaded and the game on the line, the Orioles just couldn’t get the big hit.

“Not in the clutch moments,” said Conant coach Josh Heaphy of the Orioles’ 2-1 loss. “We got hits, but not when we needed them.”

The Orioles stranded 12 runners against Contigiani — more baserunners than he’s used to allowing, but when they don’t cross the plate, it doesn’t matter much.

“I’m impressed by Cole, he came through,” Heaphy said. “Bases loaded a couple times and he struck us out when he needed to.”

After giving up a first-inning run, Conant starter Corbin Sasner settled in and cruised through the next few innings, holding the Red Raiders scoreless until a Chris Marden single in the fifth extended the lead to 2-0, signaling the end of a strong playoff start for the junior Sasner.

“Corbin did everything we wanted, kept us in the game, we just couldn’t get the hits,” Heaphy said. “We knew we could keep it close with Corbin so that was the decision going forward, and we wanted (James Record) when we needed him.”

Record would relieve Sasner and induce a double play to get out of the jam with no further damage. And in the top of the sixth, the Orioles would finally strike. Sasner walked, Preston Kirby singled and Ryan Smith walked to load the bases for Gavin Motuzas, who drove in Conant’s first run. Belmont coach Matt LeBlanc came out to the mound to soothe his weary starter.

Contigiani struck out Aidan Kirby, bringing Record to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded. With Contigiani at nearly 120 pitches — the limit — Record would be the last batter he faced, no matter what.

“Just trying to come up big for the team, hopefully I can deliver,” Record said, “but you know, just didn’t happen. Confidence level was up, everything was feeling good, just didn’t get the right pitch and popped out.”

Record’s popup to the right side was caught with ease to end the Oriole threat. He’d retire the Belmont side to bring Conant up with one more shot and lefty reliever Griffin Embree on the mound, but despite the change in velocity, the Orioles went down in order on three pitches to end the game and give Belmont its 17th straight win and a shot at the title.

“We saw a new pitcher, he wasn’t throwing as hard, so they were jumping on the first pitch,” Heaphy said. “That one’s probably on me, I should probably have settled them down, made sure they see a couple...I think that was just nerves, they wanted to all be the hero, get us in position to score. That’s baseball.”

It was a bitter end for the seniors, who’d come in a year after Conant’s 2012 championship and seen a disappointing finish to each season since.

“Words can’t describe the bond that we had end of the year, when we came together,” Record said. “The amount of heart this team had at the end of the year, incredible. Words can’t describe it … It just shows me how this program is not dying, it’s still a success no matter what. I’m sure it’s still going to be around when I’m coming here and watching the games. Doesn’t leave me with a bad taste — yeah, it sucks to lose, but a Final Four run is no joke, we’ve just got to take that and roll with it.”

Belmont go on to lose to Campbell in the Division III championship game on Saturday, after the Cougars lit up Embree for three runs in the bottom of the 10th. Jake Donovan got a pinch-hit, walkoff single to complete Campbell’s undefeated championship season.

“It sucks, because you want [Conant’s seniors] to win it,” Heaphy said. “That was the goal all along ... I’m very disappointed to not have them any more. What they gave to this program, you can’t ask for more. (Record) didn’t pitch ’til last year, and he’s been dominant for two years. Chance [Kirby] has been a starting infielder four year. Caleb [Donahue] started to hit later, but he was a first baseman for three years. I’m going to miss them all. They’ve been great for me, great for this program, great for the underclassmen who’ve kind of watched and seen how we’ve done it in the past. It’s going to be hard to replace [them].”